Once again, I have to start with an apology. This is one of several technology conference “seasons” where they pile onto one another. Thus, as I’m writing this I’ll have been to five conferences in about 3 weeks. I’m going to write individual blog posts for each but they will be much shorter than the norm. I apologize that I won’t be giving them the full review of the conference I would have otherwise. It will be in this order:
- Infusionsoft (March 25-29)
- SugarCRM (April 6-9)
- Clarabridge (April 17-19)
- Infor (April 21-24)
- Lithium (April 23-25)
I’ll be repeating this overture in each of these posts – except that as I complete one, the link to it will be in the Overture list. This is going to take some time too. So don’t look for it as a weeks long project. It might take me a month or two.
I also apologize to Oracle who is holding its analyst summit at the same time as one of these conferences (Lithium) and I can’t go because of prior commitments. Thank you for the invite, nonetheless. Susie Penner, you rock!
Infusionsoft (March 25-29)
I’ve been to a lot of conferences. A LOT of conferences. Some are great in content, not too big; others not too great content, huge in size; zillions of hybrids. But what has been for the most part the culture of the conferences is the culture that the customers of the technology companies represent – for me, primarily enterprise customers. But there is one GREAT exception to that rule which is InfusionCon, the conference owned by small business technology provider Infusionsoft – and as you’ll see, I’m being descriptively disingenuous when I say “technology provider.”
There are two things that I think I need to say here – both big statements and both which I’ll elaborate on to varying degrees;
- Statement #1 – The culture of small business is dramatically different than the culture of the enterprise. This is the “duh” statement.
- Statement #2 – Infusionsoft is not only a dominant small business technology provider now – with 13,500 customers; $39 million revenue in 2012; and a $54 million round of funding from Goldman Sachs in 2012; but they are going to be an even more dominant small business entrepreneurial command center – with products, services, tools, and expertise that will make them the leaders in this area among small business in the next two or three years – and which will present them with some challenges, which I will outline. This is the “you got THAT right” statement.
This is not the first time I’ve written about them (Most recently, here’s their latest Watchlist 2013 winner post). I’ve known this company since about 2004 (I think of those I know, only Brent Leary, predates me in having some relationship with the company) and I’ve seen their explosive growth over the years. They’ve had their glitches here and there, one or two of them notable, but all in all, they have been somewhat amazing because they’ve had so few and that they have succeeded at capturing the hearts and minds of small business. I’m not using “hearts and minds” here so that I can turn a literary cliché or two into some business “thing.” I mean it fairly precisely. They not only have a great product, but they have an extraordinary fan base. Their customers love them. That’s love with a capital L and O-V-E. I mean think about it, 2100 customers show up. Do the math. That’s around 4.2% of their entire customer base came to this conference.
That fantastic percentage came because Infusionsoft has its act together, a precise laser focus on a target market, a clear understanding of the needs of their customer base and a willingness to, not only provide software but to “business life coach” the companies in their target market. This is a unique differentiator in the small business space.
The numbers that they generate speak for themselves. Not only are they are 13,500 customer strong organization, but their revenues are off the charts given their tiny business focus. The 2013 revenues were over $45,000,000 – making them, by far, the largest small business player. They’ve done so well, they’ve swayed the traditional investor market. Goldman Sachs, hardly a risk taking organization, gave them $54,000,000 because they “got” the Infusionsoft premise. Of course, this gives them an insane advantage over their competitors who just don’t have the juice or the muscle to compete in the space at their level.
Make no mistake about it. They are ONLY focused on companies that have 25 or fewer employees. Nothing else. They aren’t even tempted to go upmarket much less planning for it.
With that focus, Chief Product Officer (CPO) Richard Tripp and his intrepid team, spent months interviewing their customers to find out what they wanted. They then mapped the desires against their budgets, their existing architecture and frameworks and their already existing roadmaps. They then came out with Spring Release 13, one of their more ambitious releases.
Spring Release 13
What characterizes their Spring 13 release is that it is an ambitious extension of their already eminently practical applications. If I had to abstract the most important pieces there are these two:
- GroSocial – Fully integrated into the marketing campaign builder (check #1), GroSocial does kind of what you expect – outbound “social” marketing. It allows you to build and track, primarily Facebook, but also Twitter campaigns, which, for small business can be useful for some lead generation purposes – well beyond “like.” Of course, in the interest of honesty, the jury is still out on whether or not Facebook is a good vehicle for marketers. It remains to be seen.
- My Day – This isn’t just a task organizer. You can literally take actions from this quasi-dashboard. It provides the aggregate of all sales activities and it is interactive. So if you see that, for example, you need to create a quote, you can do it from My Day, using their vastly improved quoting tools.
With all their improvements, there is one niggling problem with their applications that has been there for years, and to my, purist, somewhat pedantic in this case, self it needs to be fixed. If you look at their tabs, what they provide is Marketing and CRM. CRM to them is what everyone else would (and does) call “sales.” It’s time to fix that since CRM for those who spend the time to find out encompasses all customer facing departments – which means sales, marketing and customer service, making this label redundant (marketing twice), misleading (no service) and confused (covering up sales functionality with the wrong name). Is this a major thing? No. But it does drive me nuts. And should be fixed so their customers can learn the difference between CRM and sales if they don’t already know.
Okay, okay. Its not a big deal….its not….it isn’t…..just change it already!
Ahhh, the Culture
Even though they pretty much have nailed the software that they provide to the small business market, that isn’t their differentiator – or at least the one that drives the passion in their customers. It’s the Infusionsoft genuinely customer-centered culture that gives them domination in the market.
Probably the best way – both literally and metaphorically – to understand Infusionsoft is one of the staff positions at the company. They call it Dream Manager. The actual man with the title is Donovan Roberson, whose job is to meet with everyone of Infusionsoft’s employees and find out from them what their dreams in life are – and then to figure out how to help each of them realize that dream.
This isn’t a marketing thing.. They really do it. Their employees whether they want to play the piano or become CEO of a company or to write a children’s book, aren’t just encouraged, but actually supported by Infusionsoft in their effort to get there.
But there is more than that to the culture. They are a mindful culture, which might be the only way I can think to describe it. They have a concern for each employee and they truly believe in work-life balance and provide for their employees according to that. The best way for me to describe “mindful” is by a sign that you see when you walk in that warns you not to bring anything with pineapple into the area beyond the sign – including even a pineapple scented whatever – because there is an employee who has a severe allergy to pineapple.
They have a 90,000 square foot headquarters in Chandler, Arizona that has a partial football field on the ground level in the dead center. Even though the reason given aside from a history, is that its one of those “go for the goal line” things, its pretty obvious that the actual reason isn’t inspirational – its that its really cool to have a place to throw around a football if you want right in the middle of your office. There is also a cereal bar which is reminiscent of co-founders CEO Clate Mask and VP of Demand Generation Scott Martineau, eating only cereal when they first started. Now it’s a great hangout with about 2 or 3 dozen kinds of cereal – all you can eat. There is a stage for presentations that has these strange, slightly campy, colored blocks as the wall in the back, which also make an appearance in the playroom where people can relax and play games. I’ll let them tell you the story of the blocks. Be sure to ask though. Heh. Heh.
They expect to outgrow this facility by next year with an expansion in the next couple of years to over 1000 employees in many cities.
All in all, you can see this is a relaxed very friendly and encouraging corporate culture with a strong layer of courtesy thrown in. Working with each other, for the customers and on one’s ambitions is encouraged and leads this to be a place that people want to work.
The New Business Model
This culture and their focus leads to them doing far more than providing technology. They are actively evolving a set of managed services for small business which range from what it takes to set up a small business; to business analysis on improving business; in other words, a wide set of ancillary services that they and their partners provide. Right now, the bulk of their partner network consists of value added resellers (VARs) and a significant portion of their revenues is derived via these partners. For now the focus is on “reseller of software” In the foreseeable future, it can easily move (and should) to more of a focus on “provider of value added services.”
For years, they’ve aimed at providing thought leadership to their market. That’s best reflected in a book written by CEO Clate Mask, Scott Martineau and Michael Gerber, called “Conquer the Chaos.” It’s basically a “how to” with some inspirational material mixed in for those very small companies. Unlike 95% of the books of this type, meaning those written by CEOs who a. think they or a ghostwriter can write; and b. they have great pearls of wisdom to dispense to a population starving for them; this particular book is not only engaging but it has genuinely useful information for small business. What the book does do for the company, which is more germane to this post is provide the foundation that translates directly into the provision of services that the small companies need. That means services ranging from coaching to training to technology to strategy development, not just implementation.
If I was a betting man, I’d say that within the next three to five years Infusionsoft will no longer be a technology company per se. They will be a Small Business Command Center – a services provider, among them technology services. That means they will be where any company 25 employees or under can go to enter an ecosystem of services, products and tools, to run their business, all managed by Infusionsoft. Someday, I’ll elaborate in a post on this new business model and how creating an ecosystem, rather than just a channel, benefits this approach. But not now.
The Conference Itself
I’m not going to dwell on the conference too much. Suffice to say, for the most part, it, as always, was well managed and informative and fun. The coolest part was a VIP party with the Infusionsoft Dream Catchers (my name for their informal rock-focused jammers) playing with the lead vocalist of Chicago. The rock band, not the city.
They had their first analyst day and for the most part, pulled it off. As always, as a first analyst day there were things that could have been better – chief among them invite more influencers than they did. But all in all it succeeded.
The one thing overall that could have been significantly improved was the speaker lineup. As with last year, they had speaker after speaker who’s sole message was this is how you can make a million dollars or some variation on the theme. Or “this is how I made a million or a billion dollars and ain’t I cool?” – massive ego trips that Infusionsoft finances. They did this last year and, dismayingly, they did it again this year. The best speakers, aside from the Infusionsoft management, who are warm, good people and come across that way, were their Ultimate Marketer customers award finalists, who were speaking to more than just money, but to values.
The reason, at least as far as I can tell, for this blind spot, is that their earliest customer segment tended to be the info-marketer, who of course is the type of person who tells you how to get a vegetable chopper for “only $19.95 + shipping and handling” at around 4am if you’re up and watching TV. In fact, what struck me really funnily was that unlike any other technology conference I ever went to, the collateral stuck under my door was things like “get 10,000 Twitter followers in 30 days or money back” – meaning I actually was getting printed spam with the junk folder being my garbage can.
However, what they have to realize is that they are far beyond that now. Their customers are small businesses in 200 plus categories as they proudly (and rightfully so) told me. Meaning the small company mainstream, not the outliers. And, with the cultural thrust and their explosive growth, the business model they seem to be looking toward and their superb internal ethos, its time to provide some visionary thinking and exposition and some conversation around those ethics and values in business, rather than just fantasy after fantasy spammer on making a million dollars. Sometimes its not what people tell you they want, but what you show them they have. Companies like Infusionsoft can take that leadership and not be offensive. Small businesses actually listen to them. They need to take themselves more seriously, in that respect, than they do. It’s their one blindspot.
Even with this blindspot, this company owns and, if their business model continues to evolve to what I think it will, will continue to own the very small business space for a long time to come.
(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Social CRM: The Conversation Blog RSS)